The Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres has become increasingly outspoken about politics recently - using his public office to adjudicate on highly political and partisan issues.
Regardless of the correctness or otherwise of his pronouncements, some will be uncomfortable with an office of the state being so interventionist.
First of all, I think it’s wrong to label De Bres’ public comments as interventionist. They are, after all, just public comments. If De Bres was using his powers under the Human Rights Act to force a situation on another person or organisation, then that would be interventionist. I think public comments lack the tangibility to be labelled interventionist.
Anywho, De Bres’ increasing activity is coinciding with an increasing amount of anti-Maori sentiment - read racism. As a few examples, think of Paul Holmes’ Waitangi column, the coverage and response to the Popata brothers, the senseless opposition to Ngati Whatua’s treaty settlement and Louis Crimp.
There have been regional racism incidents too. In the Taranaki internet commentators tore into local Maori for ‘daring’ to exercise their legal right to apply for customary title. In all of these situations, De Bres has largely been the only voice of opposition. Morally speaking, De Bres is obligated to oppose racism and, quite unsurprisingly, he is legally obliged to do so under s5(2)(l) of the Human Rights Act 1993:
The Commission is to “make public statements in relation to any group of persons in, or who may be coming to, New Zealand who are or may be subject to hostility, or who have been or may be brought into contempt, on the basis that that group consists of persons against whom discrimination is unlawful under this Act”
As I’ve argued, Holmes Waitangi column brought Maori into contempt, as did much of the discussion around Ngati Whatua’s treaty settlement, the Popata brother’s story and discussion and Louis Crimp’s comments. So, taking that view, De Bres is obligated to comment under the Act.
I’m bloody glad De Bres is commenting on these issues because there aren’t enough Maori with the ability, position and willingness to comment on these issues. Racism should never go unchallenged and De Bres deserves credit for acting on that principle.